12th Jun2015

‘Hannibal 3×02: Primavera’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“God can’t save any of us, because… it’s inelegant.”

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After the sepulchral arthouse horror of last week’s ‘Antipasto’, viewers tuning in to ‘Primavera’ might reasonably have expected a return to form. What the episode gives us instead is, in Hannibal’s words, a rare gift: destruction and rebirth. Like the stunted, deformed stag that emerges from Hannibal’s latest masterpiece, the show has reconstituted itself into a beast at once similar to and radically different from its previous incarnation. It may be a bit early to call whether or not Hannibal has abandoned self-contained episodes in favor of serialization, but thus far the season has the feeling of a sustained hallucination with little room for cut-and-dried mysteries of the week.

Alright, to be fair, most episodes of Hannibal feel like sustained hallucinations, but it’s grown markedly more pronounced as the series has gone on. Also carrying over from last week is the idea of the mind palace, a place where memories are given imagined form so that the thinker can revisit them more easily. After a brief retread of last season’s unrelenting closing moments, followed by a snapshot of Will’s stay in a hospital bed where his vitals are both literally and figuratively exposed to the world and we learn that Abigail survived her second throat-cutting, we start down the first of what turns out to be many rabbit holes. ‘Primavera’ shows us not Hannibal’s sprawling, Satanic memory palace but one much simpler, built not in remembrance but to provide a place of safety and escape: Will’s.

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Hannibal has avoided both the clutter of rushing to assure us our favorite characters survived season 2′s cliffhanger massacre and the cheap tension of keeping said information at an artificial remove. What it’s done instead is what it does best: marinate. Will’s inquiries and realizations are preceded almost without exception by his descent into a circle or doorway indicative of various hidden meanings. The blood he imagines seeping through his bandages emerges in a pattern suggestive of human lips in the act of kissing. The paper he snatches in Hannibal’s office contains first the shaky, derealized clock face he drew back in season 1 and then a growing ring of char as it burns from the center to the edges. In the cathedral at Palermo is the memento mori Hannibal once spoke of, a skeleton imploring mindfulness of death.

Each metaphysical gateway that draws Will’s attention brings him deeper into a mental space where he can be closer to Hannibal. Whether he wants to catch the killer or attempt again to unite with him is a question even Will can’t fully answer. “You don’t know who’s side I’m on,” he tells inspector Rinaldo Pazzi as together they sweep through the catacombs under the church, hunting for “Il Mostro” as the Florentines know Hannibal. Pazzi provides not just a look at another smudged mirror for Will but an important glimpse at a younger Hannibal, one still in his twenties and perhaps just forming his outlook on the world. That his early crimes recreated classical art is hardly surprising, but there’s something endearingly earnest about his visiting the paintings in question every day to sketch and re-sketch them, unearthing new details and deepening his understanding. Whatever machine drives Hannibal’s soul was already very much in motion.

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The focus on Will and Abigail is close. Only Pazzi has any other significant weight in the episode’s structure, so the revelation that Abigail lives only in Will’s memory palace hits with appropriate weight. “A place was made for you, Abigail, in this world,” Will tells her as she dissolves from reality. “The only place I could make for you.” It’s fascinating that while Hannibal’s palace is art and architecture, grandiose , and pristine but devoid of life, what we’ve seen of Will’s is concerned with nature and the living. Even in his palace, though, Will is far from free of Hannibal. Il Mostro never speaks, and he’s present only for a scant few shots, but his presence hangs over ‘Primavera’ as though he were the God Will constantly associates him with. The Abigail will holds within himself still longs to return to her captor and tormentor, voicing doubts that Will is too uncomfortable to speak himself. “He wanted us to live,” she tells him, describing the surgical quality of the wounds Hannibal gave them.

The sequence showing the treatment of Will’s wounded body and Abigail’s dead one further blurs the line between life and death. The same care is given, the same ritualistic attention paid. We carry images of one another with us in our minds, remembering and repurposing our loved ones. “Il Mostro created images that stayed in my mind,” Pazzi tells Will. It might as well be Hannibal‘s secret tagline. The show remembers itself with meticulous attention to detail, but it uses those memories to create further ambiguity and anxiety. It’s a world where people build cathedrals just to drop them on the heads of those who come to pray.

When Abigail asks Will why he didn’t want to go with them, why he turned aside the idea of a life with her and Hannibal, he tells her “The wrong thing being the right thing to do was too ugly a thought.” Hannibal isn’t a show about championing justice or learning true moral rectitude through hardship, it’s a show about losing your sense of self and becoming adrift in a world without cohesion or meaning. Hannibal has harmed Will’s psyche, perhaps irreparably, and now dwells within it even as he lurks without it. The descent into the catacombs, lit by candles and peopled with the remains of the interred, is a journey into uncertainty. It is unknown what Will means when he says that he’s forgiven Hannibal, and the beast himself, hesitating in the dark, knows that as well as we do.

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